Despite the fact that Notre Dame finished 4-8 in 2016, many Irish fans are optimistic heading into the 2017 season. There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic. The coaching staff added a handful of talented coaches (most notably Mike Elko and Chip Long). The strength and conditioning program has been completely revitalized. As soon as DeShone Kizer declared for the NFL Draft, Brandon Wimbush assumed the role of QB1, and it looks like that will be the case when the Irish open their 2017 season on September 2nd. No quarterback controversy this year, folks.
I would categorize myself with the group of Irish fans that are very optimistic looking ahead to the 2017 season. Admittedly, I’m almost always optimistic when thinking about the next Notre Dame football season. This is probably because I’m always excited for the next season of college football to kick off, and it’s easier to be excited when you convince yourself that your team has a legitimate chance to win a national championship or major bowl game.
The other day I thought to myself, “Am I being overly optimistic?” I paused for a second and then I began to see flashes of a tumultuous 2017 season. The Irish start 0-4. Brian Kelly is fired. Wimbush loses the starting job. South Bend tailgates become depressing as everyone you talk to wants to bad-mouth Jack Swarbrick, the coaching staff, and the team. Older alumni make it clear that, “This would have never happened back in my day.” Then, I snapped out of it.
Granted, what I described is the worst of the worse-case scenarios, but I think it sparks an important discussion. So I decided to play devil’s advocate and break down Notre Dame’s 2017 season from a different perspective.
First, their schedule is tough. They play five true road games and will have to face Georgia and USC in South Bend. Bleacher Report ranks Notre Dame’s schedule as the 10th hardest schedule in the nation. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the Irish finish 7-5. A bad break here or there results in a couple more losses, and then were right back where we left off in 2016. According to Murphy’s Law, Notre Dame will finish 0-12.
Second, the Irish have a new Offensive Coordinator and a new Defensive Coordinator, and both of them are implementing new systems. College football programs need continuity to reach elite levels. Chip Long and Mike Elko are great coaches, but it will take more than a year for the players to become proficient in the new schemes.
Lastly, we don’t know how well Brandon Wimbush will perform. As I mentioned, Wimbush and the rest of the Irish offense will be learning a new system this offseason. Chip Long’s offense is fast paced and features a plethora of run-pass options (RPOs). This puts the ball in the hands of the quarterback and allows him to read the defense and make decisions based on what he sees. The success of this offense depends on the decision-making skills of the quarterback. Brandon Wimbush is very talented, but he has yet to start a game a Notre Dame. We do not know how he will perform under the pressure that comes with being the starting quarterback at Notre Dame.
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